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Nine Signs You are a Normal Therapist . . . and encouragement to break the mold.

Image: villagehat.com

Image: villagehat.com

In the BBC hit series, Sherlock, the protagonist, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, characteristically known by his unusual double-billed hat called a “deerstalker,” given to him by his faithful Dr. Watson, describes himself as a “consulting detective.” Further, he also describes his nemesis, James Moriarty, in similar fashion, as a “consulting criminal.” This description, of an external expert as consultant, is something we need. In the profession of mental health, we need more “consulting experts” and fewer “normal therapists.” Consulting experts . . . ready to use their knowledge and skills to assist in all kinds of venues. Medical, legal, business, government, education. Here’s why.

I’ve been a professional therapist for over 35 years. I don’t consider my journey within the profession to be that remarkable or different from the “average” or “normal” therapist. Where it has been different, has been in the things I have done outside the “normal” parameters. In working with manufacturing companies, with family-businesses, non-profit organizations, and others.

Being a “normal therapist” myself, I’ve also supervised, administered, trained, and taught hundreds of other normal therapists over the years, and . . .

Let me be blunt . . . there are a lot of things about being “normal” that, over time, will drastically increase the risk—the risk of practicing in a manner that will undermine the therapist’s life and career. Over time, doing significant damage if not understood, addressed, and overcome.

What do I mean? Well, let me tell you. I mean that I have cringed as I have heard too many therapists, often nearing the end of their careers, that don’t have good retirement savings, do not take off quality time from their practices (some skip vacations and have not had a quality vacations for years), are not in a position to financially help their children or families and who are burned out, tired, and, sometimes, defeated by the very career they chose to support and sustain them and their families.

From a business/career stand point, the normal therapist is often their own worst problem. Let me lay it out for you . . .

Nine signs of the normal therapist:

  • Believes that working for an organization is safer than working for themselves. Ah the benefits! Salary, insurance, paid time off, training budget . . . there are several aspects of working for an organization that appear to make it the safe choice. But is it? It feels like it until the the layoffs, down-sizing, closings happen. Most businesses, even Fortune 500 firms, don’t last more than about a couple generations. It’s just not as safe as you think.

  • Thinks that the most reliable way to get paid is to be dependent upon insurance reimbursements. I hear many talking about wanting to get away from insurance but most, even the experienced, see insurance as a reliable source of revenue. Okay, sure, it is. But, organizations—who provide coverage for your clients— change insurance providers. Reimbursement rates are dropped. Getting paneled becomes more limited. You either spend time chasing the payments or pay someone to chase them for you. Is this really the most reliable form of income? For me, the answer is, “No!” Contracts, several that have laster more tan 12 years in my case are far more reliable. Negotiated rates with organizations that appreciate the value you offer is far different than the insurance panels trying to minimize costs.

  • Worries that peers, or others, may think they are driven by a desire for money. Occasionally I wonder if the worst thing you could say to a “helping professional” is that they seem to be “interested in being financially successful.” Most deny this by quickly pointing to other priorities for their work. But, just because it is not their primary goal, does it mean that they don’t want to be financially successful. In most cases, “No.” However, they are uncomfortable acknowledging this. They constantly make sure that peers know, and will not judge them, by downplaying and insisting their focus is not on money.

  • Are willing to trade time for vague benefits. They are wooed by vague benefits to their own career and live based on hopes reaping “marketing benefits,” unplanned “giving back” to the community or profession, and “just a good experience. They accepting being on call, providing free phone support, writing letters, and other tasks without much, if any, benefit to their business. I’m not suggesting that none of these things should happen—circumstance dependent, any and all of these may be appropriate or necessary; my point is, that the normal therapist simply does this, and accepts doing it, because it has been the standard practice historically.

  • Makes excuses about the unsavory elements of their career rather than working to change them. Long term complaints about hating paperwork, insurance, no shows, without taking assertive steps to remove those things from their business life. Most will simply accept these things as part of the profession rather than re-examining their utility in today’s environment or seek other forms of practice that minimize or eliminate some of these elements.

  • Constantly seeks to reassure themselves that they are competent. I hate to say it, but a majority of normal therapists have a lot of self-doubt. Just like the college student taking Psych 101 and wondering if the symptoms described in class men that they have a certain diagnosis, therapists, perhaps due to the personal intensity of their studies or primal interest, often give marquee attention to their weaknesses or deficits rather than their strengths. Few feel confident that they “know enough” or are an “expert” beyond a narrow and specifically trained knowledge base and skill-set. Yet, in truth, their life-experiences, knowledge, and training make their utility much more broad then they imagine.

  • Doesn’t take risks, even small ones, that could provide significant improvements in their career. You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?*” How about the correlary, “How many therapists . . . will change.” Therapists tend to play it safe. Leaps of faith for the sake of their career are rare. This includes wisely spending money to increase the likelihood of progressing in their careers. So, they go to mediocre trainings, don’t pay for supervision to gain expertise, do not spend money to learn new processes or products that could make their practice stand out and separate them from other providers.

  • Follows the rules. While their are pioneers in our field, out there breaking new ground, as a group, therapists are prone to follow the “tried and true” of that the profession has dictated health care “is.” There are few “disrupters” or “contrarians” as a rule in the group and thus not much innovation. Tendencies run more toward “am I doing it right?” and against, “could it be done better?”

  • Feels victimized by outside sources. Let’s face it colleagues. We often “play the victim.” Whether it is society, insurance companies, culture, history, etc. there is often a stain of helplessness norms in our thinking. These professionals, among the highest educated and trained people in the world, feel trapped and powerless by forces outside their control. We may seek to liberate others from the forces that we fear may be in fact constricting our own trajectory.

Professionals that stay trapped in this normative mindset may have an adequate, or even good, careers. Many do. They will, however, be subject to operating within the confines of the health care system and their own perceived limitation of their profession. The tragedy of this is that their are no “consulting therapists” in daycare centers, oncology offices, pediatrician practices, legal firms, or on family business boards—among many other places where they could provide significant benefits. More sadly, most professionals have never even asked themselves the question, “Could they benefit from my consulting?” Thus, the inquiry is never made. No discussions take place. No services are defined or contracts completed . . . and no help is available.

Do you see these signs in our profession? How does it affect the careers of your colleagues? How many of the nine traits influence your thinking?

As a profession, we need to focus on becoming more entreprenurial, taking a broad view of our capabilities, and turning those into non-traditional areas that could use our help. IN as sense, we need to see our selves as “consulting professionals” and not just therapists. Are you ready? If so, grab your “deerstalker” and let’s go. The game is afoot, dear Watson.

Ready to be abnormal? Share our post, make a comment, or more than one, and include in your comments how you shared the post, and you will be entered in a drawing for a digital copy of our book Beyond the Couch: Turning your behavioral health degree into cash without losing your soul and other prizes. To encourage comments, we will give away one copy of the book for every 10 comments. So, even if you already have it, or are not interested in the book for yourself, you can tell us who you’d like to give to or we will give it away for you!

*So, how many therapists does it take to change a light build? “Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

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I'm a fanatic . . . about culture . . . but it better be real!

Yep, I could be  that guy!  I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by  Martin Reisch  on  Unsplash

Yep, I could be that guy! I’m that far gone . . . . Photo by Martin Reisch on Unsplash

I admit it. I’m a fanatic. No not a ranting, in your face, zealot. I’m from the midwest after all. Our zeal is a little more tempered. Stoic. Nice. That reminds me, our state once thought the best tourism tag line for our state was to promote this . . . “Nebraska, nice.” Ugh. Doubt it helped much. Anyway, back to me, the fanatic. I bear all the hallmarks of being a “true believer,” I have the gear, I study carefully everything about my passion, I’m drawn to others who share a similar love for the object of my obsession, I’ve done it all . . . except the tattoo. But then again, I’m from a different generation and, again, midwestern.

So, what is it that I am fanatical about? Well . . ., before I tell you and some of you sign off—concluding that your passion is not mine, and thus irrelevant—let me say, this post is not about the object of my fan-dom (fan-dumb?) but about the power of culture You see, the entity upon which my interest is focus is, right now, not worthy of such devotion. Ouch. It hurts to even admit that, I’m such a homer when it comes to college football.

The truth is the truth however and it is undeniable that my beloved team—the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, or “the Huskers” for short—has been awful. Last year? 4-8. The year before? 4-8. Dismal. Yet, this team has a top 15 recruiting class this year. They have been projected to finish in the top 20 by a number of prognosticians. Enthusiasm is high among the fans. Hope is abundant. What gives? Well a change in leadership but perhaps even more importantly the establishment of a new culture.

You can feel it. In the way the players talk, in the way they play, in their belief in the team and coaches and their willingness to voluntarily commit their discretionary effort to the team’s goals. Just watch their body language. A few years ago, under a different coaching regime . . . we won’t name names, I saw players on the side lines with their heads down, looking away or even pushing past . . . and thus avoiding . . . coaches who were trying to talk to them. It was not surprising when, over time, they began to look like they weren’t united in trying to win and the results began to mirror that disconnect. My observations were confirmed when a friend, and former division I quarterback, made the same observation, “You can tell they don’t want to play for this coach,” he said, “Just look at how they act when they come off the field.” Finally, someone close to the program also stated it. “They lost faith in the coach.”

So what has given this new culture its legs? Not success . . . not yet. Unless it’s the reputation of past success which these leaders have or the progress being made. But, success in the present? No. The team started out 0-6. The first time in the history of the program. Amazingly, the team continued to fight. They appeared to improve over the course of the season. They fought no matter what the circumstances and even looked better when they lost. It was clear that they “had each other’s back” and the team was, in fact, a Team. Having played both for teams that were not united or had a successful culture as well as teams that were very high functioning (including a national coach of the year) here are a few observations (from an outsider’s view) of what has made this work.

  1. The leaders have a deep understanding of—and deep connection with —the broader context of the program and how to utilize the context to promote success. The Coach grew up in Nebraska. Population 1,325. The “Walk On Program” here at Nebraska—the recruiting of local kids—is at least as important as the getting the “blue-chippers”—highly ranked recruits— in the context of Nebraska football. He gets this. He praises the fans and the culture as being “like no other” and highlights its strengths—joking about how “blue-chippers” think they’ll see a football stadium in the “middle of a corn field.” Early cohorts talked about valuing the walk on program but in practice . . . they didn’t get it.

  2. The leaders demonstrate a commitment to one thing—success. I hear statements like, “We are going to be good.” or “ We’ll see if he can contribute.” Even doubts, “Some may not be with the program” It’s clear that the goal is the focus and they believe reaching for that goal will help everyone who buys in. You could call it the “while no one is an ‘expendable crewman’ . . . some are more expendable than others.” But the message is clear. This is about being successful as a team. You can “get on board” or not but it is the single clear focus of the program.

  3. Hard work is the route to success. How do you go from 4-8 two years in a row to the 13th ranked recruiting class? Hard work. Weight training. Husker Power. Strength Coach Zach Duvall. The coaches have not shied away from saying that players were not where they needed to be. In fact after the final game to our Iowa neighbors, the coach said it hurt to see that they were bigger and stronger than we were. How’s that for honest clarity? Yes, the coaches are careful to allow that there are many paths to success (that other coaches may have tried) and that previous coaches may have had a different focus and emphasis, but it’s clear that the team did not meet their criteria for strength, speed, and commitment. It’s also clear that anyone wanting to be a part will dedicate themselves to these attributes.

  4. Finally, over everything else, the emphasis is on people. The clear message—and one that resonates as not just being "coach-speak”—is that this is about the players. Helping them become better men. Developing their potential. Becoming a close-knit group and having fun together. Yes, fun. In fused in everything is this belief that hard work, dedication, team chemistry, and success is fun and worth the effort. The mission is not just winning on the field it’s being successful as a person.

In Coach Frost’s own words . . .

As I was writing this blog, an Omaha World Herald article by Sam McKewon came out where Coach Frost talked about the importance of culture. Here’s part of what Frost was quoted as saying . . . “Culture eats scheme for breakfast . . . I can put the guys in the best scheme, the best offensive plays, the best defensive plays we can come up with. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have . . . people holding each other accountable, and we don’t have our team making smart decisions and grinding and working hard, [i.e.; the right culture] I’m not sure the best scheme in the world matters.”

Frost boils it down to two factors, 1. players making decisions in the best interests of their teammates, and 2. a desire to excel and no fear of failure.

Will this, ultimately, lead to the success the coaches want? If we’re talking wins . . . it’s unknown. In fact, due to the variables at play in such an endeavor it could be argued that their is no way to determine what causal factors lead to success on the field. Fair enough. But if you just look at the players behavior, other on and off the field, you can already see a clear and vital difference. It’s clear that this focus on culture has brought a new energy, a willingness to commit voluntary effort to succeeding, and cleared aways a number of hurdles that were detrimental to success. A strong culture, at the very least, increases the likelihood that success is possible—in athletics and in business.

P.S. I was told by someone who worked with transportation for recent Husker teams would leave the bus “trashed” when they got done with a trip. Not anymore. The Coaches, from the first, made players clean up after themselves and appreciate the service they were being given. Coaches talk about representing the state, university, and each other. The message is clear—even in this minor detail, “We will treat people, including ourselves, with respect.” Sometimes it starts that small to build a great culture.

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Consultant, stay "in bounds!"

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies."    --  My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him) Photo by  Jennifer Pallian  on  Unsplash

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies." -- My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him) Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

"Everyone can bake a pie; but there's just something special about Grandma's pies." -- My 12 year old son (talking about the hand-made, full butter-and-lard, rhubarb-cherry pie in front of him)

A Painful Reminder

I recently was reminded of a football game I saw years ago. One team was ahead. They had the ball. There were only a few seconds left. The quarterback completed a pass into the "flats" to his running back. The running back didn't need to make a first down. He didn't nee to make any yards at all. The point simply was to run the clock so that the opposing team would have little or no time left to make a comeback. The game was ostensibly already won.  Or so, conventional wisdom would have said. 

The pass was a bit of a surprise. If it was dropped the clock would stop.  But it seemed to work. The pass was "on the mark," the running back caught the ball, no harm was done.  Still, if they had run the ball the clock would have run for sure. There would be no danger of an incompletion and the clock stopping. But by passing it, they caught the defense off guard and there was a chance of a first down which would have given them the opportunity to not give the ball back at all to the other team.  But if they ran the clock, and punted, the other team would have had time to try and win albeit by a very low probability "hail mary" from 80-plus yards away..

What happened next was a classic example  of "not having your head in the game."  The running back caught the ball and went out of bounds! What was he thinking?  Maybe trying to get that first down. Maybe thinking the game was over no matter what happened.  Who knows?  The results were devastating.  The clock stopped. The team punted-leaving more time on the clock then they would have if they had "played it safe" and run the ball.  The opposing quarterback had enough time to drive the ball down the field and kick the game-winning field goal. 

 

The Memory: Consultant Out of Bounds

What reminded me of this game?  Well, I heard a heart-breaking consulting story that is all too common.  An organization hired a consultant to help them raise money.  In the process of interviewing possible contributors the consultant (according to the opinion of my source) discovered other issues (no doubt interfering with the fund raising) in the organization. The consultant, evidently, with the support of the leadership team, switched from "fund raising expert" to organizational behavioral expert. The results, again in the opinion of my contact, was to catalogue the problems and deliver it in a final report--essentially, according to my source, dropping a "bomb shell" into the leadership by outlining the problems without a plan to resolve them and ending the consulting contract.

The result?  Strained relationships, demotivation, institutional stagnation, resignations . . . and a loss of time carrying out and growing the organization's mission.  It is an all too frequent story. Consultants need to know what they are good at doing and when to refer to other consultants. I have no doubt that the consultant was trying to help.  But as the story was told to me, he simply made mistakes that someone with an understanding of human systems would not typically make. (Incidentally, sometimes an organization's leadership, affects the same type of "bomb effect" when they have the right type of consultant but do not commit to follow through with implementing the plan . . . but that's a topic for another post).

 

It's About the Scope of Expertise

In my "Consulting with Larger Systems" graduate course, I asked students to consider this . . . if an organization hired me (a "people guy") and started asking me questions about accounting or legal issues . . . and if I tried to advise them on those matters . . . then I would undoubtably at some point make just as monumental of an error as this consultant. My point was that no one should take on a role that their expertise does not suit them to fill. To be blunt, this puts one in the position of making mistakes that even a new professionals in those specialty areas would catch.  It's not about a lack of value. Rather it is about education, training, and experience.

I used this to try and help these students understand the value they bring to organizations. As is often the case, these talented young people, who were gifted in understanding people, devalued their abilities. The relegate ease with which they applied their talents tended to obscure the fact that most do not have this ability in the same measure. They also tended--despite being doctoral students--to downplay their experience and the preparation the education, training, knowledge, and practice gave them for working within larger human systems.

So, iff you are a leader, hire consultants with expertise in the areas you need addressed and don't let scope creep change that focus. If the issues are within the human systems then do not hire consultants that are not experts in human systems and ask them to help you fix your people problems.  It's a shot in the dark. They may have no more competence than your supervisors, managers, and leaders in the organization.

Yes, trusting the consultant is important. However, just because you trust a "people person" -- you wouldn't ask them to provide legal consultation if they had only a casual relationship with legal studies. Yet, very often leaders do exactly that, they ask business experts, legal experts, marketing experts and others what they should do regarding their human behavioral issues--and the results are often ineffective or worse. 

And if you are a consultant,  with a specialty in some other area, find partners with complementary expertise, to whom you can refer, to help organizations reach their peak performance. To do other than this hurts everyone . . . including the profession of consulting.

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Contracting Quick Tip . . . for the good guys and gals out there.

Published by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

Published by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

Today I had, yet another, conversation about how to establish a price for some contract work. As always, in my world of nice folks who didn't grow up in the business world, I found the conversation filled with fear about asking too much.

Despite having been told that the job was already bid out at a price probably twice what they would ask for the job . . . the doubts about losing the work, fearing the customer to think they were trying to take advantage of them if they asked too much, and a lack of information about creating a fee structure . . . was driving the price down to the point I questioned if it was really worth doing.

Once again, I found myself talking about the costs of Labor and Overhead, the risks of underpricing and never becoming a real viable business, explaining how a profit margin is like insurance for the business protecting it against risk, and encouraging, consoling, directing, these nice young people into charging the full value of what they were providing.

"Don't cheat yourself," I said. "Develop a real price structure that can give you the confidence that what you are asking for is fair and then stick with it." "Don't give in to fear."

Afterwards, I though to myself, "I should have told them to take a picture of their newborn and post it on the computer" where they were writing their proposal. I should have asked them, "Is it fair to your son to give away your labor and give away the future support you can provide for him?" Too many good people sacrifice in this way.

I think original advice is what they really need . . . a well-thought out price structure to boost their confidence and ward against the "push back" of customers wanting to get a "deal." But until then, maybe it's time to post those pictures next to the computer.

Bryan

Trying to create prices for your services? Try out our trial Consulting Rate Calculator!

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Our Small Town Bank Locks it's Doors . . . and reminds me of a "road not taken" . . . and an Opportunity!!

The letter . . . For privacy reasons, the full letter is available to my email subscribers.

The letter . . . For privacy reasons, the full letter is available to my email subscribers.

Our small-town bank locks it's doors . . . a road not travelled . . . and an opportunity!

A bank employee will now let you into the building . . . but only with the proper ID.

Our town only has a population of 2,000 . . . and it's in the middle of a rural area, in a state that has been referred to as "fly over country." So it's a bit shocking to get a letter like the one in the photo. I mean, this "ain't New York City!" to adapt the advertising slogan. We're used to leaving our doors unlocked, the keys in the vehicle, with the naive confidence that people generally "mean well" and can be trusted. No, this isn't "Mayberry" from the Andy Griffith show. But it's close. 

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Anyway, this letter reminded me of an event that happened about a decade ago. A bank President called me. She asked if I would be interested in setting up a state-wide Critical Incident Stress Debriefing network for her bank. At the time I was the Executive Director of a counseling center and had worked with bank leadership on a couple of her work-teams. 

I told her that we might be interested, but that I would have to find out more about what setting up and running a state-wide CISD network would require. My first call was to my professional "guru." He told me right away that the state operated a CISD team and that I should contact the head of that department. I did.

The result was disappointing . . . at best. It was clear that contact with this state-run program would be of no help what-so-ever. The program, to be fair, was designed to help "first-responders," an admirable ambition, and it was clear in the conversation with this bureaucrat that there was no room to provide this service to anyone outside the governmental system. To his credit, he was brutally clear; the legislative focus was on government and, as such, they would not provide advice, training, support, or even make available the names of counseling professionals they used across the state for their CISD services. It was a complete dead-end.

I called back the bank President. I described the experience with the state and informed her that, without being able to tap into existing resources, we simply would not be able to develop and provide this service. We were not equipped to identify, train, support, and provide the services state-wide as a small center with less than a dozen professionals on staff. It was not the right opportunity for that organization and my focus, at that time, was on building up the organization--not seizing on the opportunity to contract with the bank to develop and deliver this service.

But truth be told, it bugged me. I've never worked in government--but I have had a number of grants and contracts with legislative branches--and I am fully aware of the constraints under which they serve. What galled me was that here was a legitimate need and it went unmet. Being a problem-solver by nature it just didn't seem right to drop it. But we did.

This experience did teach me a few things that might be of use to you, my readers. Mostly, that their are unmet needs all around you and if you can uncover them, and find ways to help, you will never be without work to do and people who will pay you for the value of that work. But, more specifically . . . regarding this opportunity . . . 

1. Banks, fast-food restaurants, retailers have lots of attempted, and some completed, robberies that never make the news (in fact, in many cases, they work hard to make sure they don't!).

2. These events can cause significant turn-over and often negatively impact employee morale . . . directly impacting the "bottom line" of the bank.

3. There is no established system for addressing this need in the for-profit world. (at least not here or to the knowledge of many professionals I have asked in the past decade)  and despite training on what to do in such events and some education of the effects, there is no systematic follow up or support when the events occur.

4. There is no recognized standard way to recognize those that have expertise in helping these organizations (no state licensure or certification for CISD/M in general). Psychologists and counselors often get referrals for people who have been traumatized by these incidents and who are experiencing anxiety or other symptoms but it is rare (excepting, perhaps, public school settings) to provide this support at a group level.

Conclusions?

This is an untapped area for private practice consulting for professionals who want to get trained, develop expertise, and market these services.

 

 

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Winter Prep . . . and the lesson of doing . . . to learn you "can do!"

Winter Prep . . . and the lesson of doing . . . to learn you "can do!"

Three cords of Mulberry and Locust. Not the best, but pretty good stuff never-the-less! (3/4 cord per rack)  In the background you can see our chicken coop and the "high tunnel."

Three cords of Mulberry and Locust. Not the best, but pretty good stuff never-the-less! (3/4 cord per rack)  In the background you can see our chicken coop and the "high tunnel."

"I'm glad you said that!" exclaimed a recent trainee. We were talking about using our IMPACT Model to work with organizations, and I had just told the trainees that, far from being a typical entretreneural-type-ready to jump in with both feet, I tend to be a risk-avoider, cautious and tentative about what risks I take. 

No, the trainee wasn't glad I told them about my self-doubt and slow-adopting stance, what he was glad I said was that "sometimes you have to do something so that it is hard to deny that you can do it."  Which brings me to processing firewood . . . .

It's that time. Time to get everything buttoned down before the "snow flies" in my part of the world. This means, among other tasks, getting the firewood pre-positioned, stacked, and ready to feed the stoves and fireplace that helps heat our home. So yesterday, my 11 year old son and I stacked firewood onto our porch (see below).

For my son, stacking the rack full was a "can't do." He just couldn't imagine that we would be able to stack the entire rack full. Despite this, he hung in there until I released him with the job about 85% complete--and finished it up on my own. (Story of how a "power struggle" almost led to dire consequences.)

I can't blame him. This whole "wood thing" is a lesson in things I couldn't do at one time. 

Porch Wood.JPG

Another cord under cover. Mack helped fill it. I topped it off. This is mostly Maple. Okay, but not great.

"Couldn't do," I say, because I didn't grow up in a home where running chain saws, log splitters, or stacking firewood was part of the culture. No, I grew up on a college campus, cloistered away from such folderol. It's not that it wasn't in my heritage, in fact, my Dad, felled, transported, cut up, split, and stacked 9 cords of wood - 9 cords! - to get his high school class ring--and he did it by hand with mules, chains, and an axe. Maybe, that's why I grew up on a college campus and why I had little experience with processing firewood.

Today, running my Stihl saws (story about a broken screw and getting a second saw) ) the log splitter, and processing the winter supply is routine. But there was a time where I didn't know it would be. That the thought of trying to use or maintain a chainsaw or splitter seemed daunting if not possible. What has changed? My experience. But that only comes after one musters the courage to try -- to do the thing before knowing you can do it. To take that leap of faith.

 

Wood Garage.JPG

 

 

All Locust in the garage. Miserable to process because of the thorns but good wood--all ready for the snow!

So it is with becoming a consultant . . . and with each new project where you walk in an expert with experience in other organizations . . . but a complete novice with this new culture. You must move into the unknown, not knowing what you can do, then learning what you can achieve. The repetition of this process leads you to trust that even when you don't know what you can do in a given situation, this learning has taught you that you can do!

 

 

Want to help us develop new products?  As part of testing a new marketing platform we have temporarily lowered our prices . . . Check out our current sale . . .

Learn how to work with organizations and businesses applying your knowledge and skills as a therapist to meet the needs of a broader group and decrease your dependence on insurance, reduce your overhead . . . and find more the work you enjoy!

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Continuing Education: Take Aways from Presenting at a National Conference

Take Aways from Presenting at a National Conference

Getting Started . . .

Getting Started . . .

Just finished presenting "Beyond the Couch: Using MFT skills with Organizations" at the national conference for the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). The presentation was delivered in a pre-conference, 5 hour, "institute" held in Atlanta at the Marriot Marquis.

This pre-conference institute requires attendees to come a day early, pay an additional $175, occur additional costs of an extra day in training, and be willing to commit from 9-3:30 to this training. We had good turnout with 35-40 attending.

As an educational endeavor, I am listing the learning I got from presenting this institute. Incidentally, If you are a member of our FONS group (a private Facebook group) or a subscriber to my email list then I will give you some more personal insights later that I won't share publicly.

A beautiful day in Atlanta.

A beautiful day in Atlanta.

Here a some of my take aways . . .

Things I kind of knew that were re-confirmed:

  • Therapists are some of the nicest people to have in a presentation
  • The interest in working on contract, avoiding the insurance market, and working with organizations is growing
  • There is still little, or no, training in masters programs on business skills, contracting, or working with organizations
  • There is a strong interest in learning the tools and techniques of developing contracts
  • Therapists don't know where to find mentors when it comes to contracting and working with organizations
  • Seasoned therapists get requests to help with organizational issues whether they are trained in this area or not
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What should I have known, that i learned:

  • Teaching people, even highly skilled therapists, how to do contracting takes more than 5 hours
  • People are going to be interested in connecting personally with me for support
  • I need a plan to capture the contact information of those who show interest in connecting
  • People are going to want to buy my book, from me, right there at the conference
  • There always is at least one attendee who already has extensive experience as a consultant who is present just to get new ideas
  • There are decision makers present, often with funds, that may be looking for ways to enhance their program offerings.

What I still don't know . . . 

  • Is it worth losing two days of revenue, paying for the cost of a plane ticket etc., the time to develop the presentation, and paying for the cost of the conference (really? the presenter has to PAY to attend their own presentation?!?!)
  • As a corollary, to the point above, will I ever present at the AAMFT conference again?
  • Will the institute have an impact? Will there be any follow through for attendees who expressed interest in developing their own contracts and consulting?
  • Will the attendees who expressed an interest in coaching, training, connecting, follow through with contacting us?
  • Did the institute give attendees enough to go out and develop their first contract?

We are finalizing our 2018 schedule for training, consulting, etc. The next opportunity to get in on learning about contracting and consulting is in the Interactive CE Training (ICET) Dr. Miller will be presenting on-line October 29th. I

To reserve time for a  presentation or coaching, contact Bryan directly.

For those interested, we also have two products to help therapists get started.

Beyond the Couch: Dr. Miller's seminal book on consulting with organizations.

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Private Practice through Contracting: an eBook to reduce insurance dependency and help develop contracts as part of a private practice.

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Consulting and the Cold Hard Truth

Statue of Veritas, Goddess of Truth, Wikipedia

Statue of Veritas, Goddess of Truth, Wikipedia

 

Avoiding the Truth

How hard is it to ignore the obvious? Well, if you work in a field that causes you to work closely with people that are having problems you would know . . . it's not that hard. As an example, I remember working with a lady who was dealing with end of life issues with her 80-plus year old mother. As we talked, she repeatedly aid "if she dies" then . . . as a therapist I gently kept reminding her that it was not "if" but "when" she died . . . we have a remarkable ability to see, or not see, uncomfortable truths. As a consultant working with organizations you need to ruthlessly make yourself, and often your clients, deal with the reality of their situations . . . not the dream of how it could, or should, be . . . .

I once worked with an organization where the outside experts had worked for a year with leadership to bring them to a "path forward."  They had created an agreement. They had endured a great deal of conflict, the loss of several of their board of advisors, had their primary leader go through an evaluation and remediation process and finally to the construction of the "agreement.". They were ready to go forward. Except they weren't. An hour of listening to them talk about the history and the creation of the agreement told me, "this leadership team is still split into two camps . . . those for, and those against, the current executive."

Risking Change

So I said it. "It doesn't seem like this leadership team is on the same page." My next thought was, "I'm so fired!" You see it's my firm belief that many people do not appreciate those who tell them hard truths. I often underestimate people in that way. To there credit, they were able to say to me, "You're right!" The hierarchy of the corporate structure and local leadership supported the conclusion and we threw out the agreement plan. Instead, we worked on a time-limited plan to see if we could get the leadership team on the same page or separate amicably for the good of the organization.

Speaking Truth . . . Anyway

I am aware it does not always end well if you risk speaking the truth.  I've had one manager who, when given the results of interviews with her employees (which were a mix of positives and negatives) exploded with "What is my manager going to think? I promised to share the results with him!" While uncomfortable, these moments allow for you to continue to guide leaders into confronting the truth . . . "Did you think you would only hear positives? Wouldn't your supervisor want you aware to the challenges to your team's success? or if you are in a coaching situation with that leader maybe it is a more personal "What makes you afraid of what your boss is going to think?"

Truth is the Only path to Change

Many experts on business have noted that leaders have to have an accurate picture of where they are and a vision of where they want to go. It is consultant's responsibility to help leaders look at all the facts of where they are in the present--without distortion or fear--and enable them to focus on how to take realistic steps toward the preferred future. In this, consultants themselves must model a willingness to confront the truth of their own involvement with the leader or organization. This includes the fact that your own view of the "truth" may not match the of the leader or organization. Do not run from this! When these views collide you very well may be at the moment of peak effectiveness to make change happen. A non-anxious presence of someone speaking truth at that moment can be transformative!

 

 

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A Team . . . of Teams: How's that work?

Who, in most organizations, is the one person who really understands what it means to operate as a "team of teams?"  Who is responsible for the health of the teams and the organization?  I know who I expect it to be . . . the senior leader of the organization.  The Executive Director, President CEO, Owner . . . they are the visionaries that we often expect to have the magic touch to make an organization function dynamically and smoothly.

If you are fortunate enough to have someone who really excels at this, having a vision of how the organization can operate, the next challenge is how well are they able to communicate that vision to others.  Often I have worked with leaders who, I think, have a clear vision. But often, as I interview their staff, I find problems that interfere with the communication and operations of carrying out that vision.

Understood or not, the "team of teams' construct is one of the new fashions in leadership and organizational design circles. (In fact, this has been identified as a trend for 2016. Here's a good and recent article on this trend from Deloitte University Press

When a team of teams, or one might call it a human system of subsystems, works . . . it is a thing of beauty--like an professional orchestra--the violin section and percussion-- playing with effortless harmony and beauty. Employees are engaged (see our infographic on engagementi), they give of their discretionary time and effort to help the organization succeed, everyone pulls together and conflict is minimal. But when it doesn't work, the resulting discordant din of struggle rises and falls, filling the air with a tension that leaves it's audience, those working in the organization, contemplating the closest and most acceptable escape route.

Notice the "Skull and Crossbones" flag?  First time I've seen that one!

Notice the "Skull and Crossbones" flag?  First time I've seen that one!

 

Maybe I'm in the minority when I think that most organizations have only a superficial understanding of their human systems.  I know that most are aware of the impact of their human "element."  I hear senior manager's concerns about the impact of the business on their employees. But most see these elements in a simple "cause and effect" lens that leads, often, to assessing blame and limiting the options to address the problem.

Trained at the height of the systemic age of human sciences (I even had a course on cybernetics of cybernetics or the science of systems of systems!) theorists and researchers found that the "easiest way out leads back in" when you are talking about a system (mechanical or human). In other words, a simple approach to a systemic problem invariably does not change the system itself and thus the problem will persist. (When I was young people talked about putting saw dust in a transmission to "fix" a problem. It did not stop the transmission from failing!)

I often wonder, when I am beginning work with a new organization,  just how well prepared are the managers to understand the systemic dynamics of the people they are responsible for overseeing?  Often senior managers are tasked with casting a vision and creating policies and procedures (or culture) to avoid (or if necessary to "fix") any problems.  

But where do leaders develop their vision for leading a team of teams? My experience tells me their training will not have addressed it in depth and most of their practical models come from the success stories and personal contacts the leader or manager is exposed to in their professional contacts--or from the latest article or book on leadership.  Others recognize a need for a support system to guide them and adopt the trend of hiring an organizational behavioral consultant or executive coach.

Thus leaders chase the elusive "right mix" that will unleash the potential of their human systems and drive the success they envision. Yet, often it is largely the context itself--the industry, economy, or point-in-time--external factors, of those organizations, that determines if the team approach is working well or not. (Can you create another Pixar when one already exists?

Others may founder, not because of a lack of understanding their own organizational system, but because of the context in which their organization exists.  Leaders and organizations who enjoy a rich medium of growing markets, fat profit margins, and new research and development opportunities often have teams and a team of teams that are robust and "healthy" in their functions. Many of those same organizations however "get exposed" when adversity hits--with leaders "bailing," employee morale sinking, and public opinion declining. A system in a growth mode needs different things than one in a maintenance or declining industry.

Leaders need to understand the external context and then focus on the needs of their unique system; maximizing the contribution of the system through removing barriers, providing support, or challenging them to live up to the best vision of themselves and the organization. This often yields better results.

So, who is tasked with creating a "team of teams" in your organization?  Do you have a clear vision?  Is the communication of that vision being adopted by others?  Do you constantly have to encourage others to act inline with the organizations values?  Are teams really focused on what is best for the whole organization? If this is the model you are interested in trying to create or if it is one you have adopted but with limited success, then ask yourself, "Within our context, who has the experience, knowledge, vision and time to help us focus on operating as a true "team . . . of teams?" 

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Question for do-gooders, part 3

So when do you give away services?

Remember (in previous posts) we asked the question about what my welder should do about fixing my Father-in-law's twenty year old trailer. It is showing signs of deterioration and needs refurbishing. Should he charge full-price, half-price, or not at all.

On the business side, I made the argument that he should charge me the full-price.  Some of you, no . . . most of you seemed to think it should be a half-price job. I know it makes some of you do-good-ers uncomfortable to think that my welder is "due" the full price.  But, the need for the refurbishing, in my mind, is not a matter of negligence or quality on the welder's part.  Yes, maybe his work would be better now . . . but that is what comes with experience. So I stand by my full-price expectation.

 So once again, when do you give away services? 

But everything is not a simple business decision.  Plus sometimes business decisions are not about what is the financial short-term "best" for the health of the business. So, in fact, there may be many reasons why the welder might charge less.  But an over-socialized sense of guilt or fear of conflict should not be the reason.

What would be good reasons? I think there are a number of them. I will loosely divide them into two groups: one, for humanitarian reasons and two, for business reasons.

Humanitarian:

1. First, it should go without saying that if someone really has a critical need and you can provide them what they need to make a qualitative difference then we do it out of a sense of what is right.  We give the hungry food to eat.

2. We also provide to others with critical needs when we can do so without putting others, to whom you owe our primary responsibility (children, employees) in harm's way. Helping out a neighbor with a crisis for example.

3. We give when a gift will help improve the life of others or the community. A social responsibility such as in a time of natural disaster.

4. We give when that gift is a recognition of the another's contributions to others. "I know you serve on the town's volunteer fire department so I am going to give you 20% off."

5. We give when we have abundance and we are thankful for the gift's we have received. This may be a kin to number 3 . . . we give because we have received gifts from others.

Business:

6. On a less humanitarian note, we give when we want to demonstrate our skills to a new referral source. So we may offer something free at first to ease the ability of a "trial" of our new service.

7. We give when a new service is developed and we are unsure of its value. Pilot testing new ideas often is done "at no cost" to the participants. The value the organization or business receives is the learning and development of the service or product.

8. We give them away when charging might put the business at risk.  At times there is a grey area (at least in health care) where charging a client may carry some risk to the business . . . a service may not be covered by insurance for example.  Often the service is provided pro bono rather than engaging in some activity that could cause a legal problem.

9. We give away services at times to help build our market or brand.  Want to develop new connections, highlight your business, or establish your company as a good "citizen" within your community? Giving away your time and services can help with all of these.

Well, I'm only at 9 items so I've probably missed something critical.  What are some other reasons to "give it away?"

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Response to "Business question for do-gooders."

Okay, I've teased you long enough.  If you remember I asked in a previous post what the welder who built my father-in-law's trailer should do when I bring it to him for "refurbishing."  I told you it was twenty-plus years old and that it has been a great tool. I asked if he should do the repairs and charge me full-cost, half-price, or repair it for free.

Well, most of you seemed to lean toward the half-price option. Why?  Because it somehow seems fair or just? Perhaps I led you astray (purposely) by mentioning the welds and you assumed that there was some poor workmanship involved?  Far from it in my opinion. It is a quality job that has simply succumbed to the aging process (I can relate!).  

The key, therefore, in my estimation is in the question I asked. What should he do from a business perspective?  From a business perspective I think it is only fair that he charge the full cost of his services. After all if we assume that the job was done well in the building phase and the deterioration is simply due to time and use, then he holds no responsibility to discount his prices.

In fact, he should not discount the work because the cost of his labor and overhead (see my name plate . . . an overhead expense) have not diminished.

Uncomfortable yet Mr. Do-gooder?

I say he should not reduce the price from a business perspective and I believe this to be true.  However, that is not to say that he cannot reduce his price for some other reason. Many times those of us in business do this and for good reasons. We deliver services below our costs or even pro bono.

So, if you feel like the welder could "cut me a break" on the price what would be some valid reasons for deciding to offer a less than full-price option?

I guess on reflection I'm not yet quite done holding you in suspense.  Next, I'll tell you what I think some good reasons to give away services.

Bryan

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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Business question for do-gooders . . .

I have a trailer . . . or rather my father-in-law has a trailer that he has "left" at our house for the past 15 years. It's not a bad thing. It's a generous thing. Or maybe a pity thing. I dunno. but either way it has been a very helpful tool to our little acreage. 

The trailer is showing its age however.  This summer I rewired it.  It needs a good paint job and to really restore it to its former state it needs to be taken back to the welder that built it for a "touch up" on the welds holding the box together. I've been contemplating how I would handle it if I were the welder so . . .

Here's a thought experiment for fellow do-gooders . . . 

If you were the welder and someone brought back a trailer you built twenty years ago to have the box rewelded, would you:

A. Do it for free.  Hey, the welds should have held.

B. Charge only half.  The welds should have held but its been twenty years.

C. Charge the full price to repair the trailer.

I'd love to hear what you think.  Later, in a separate post (don't want to give away anything!), I'll tell you what I would have done twenty years ago and why I would do something different today. Then we'll explore the ethical decision as a business owner versus being a reasonable, rationale, caring human being.

Bryan

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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